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Reisverslag Discovering Panajachel, Xela and Lake Atitlan
26 juli 2014
Discovering Panajachel, Xela and Lake Atitlan
Moving from Antigua to Panajachel – a place with lots of indigenous people - living with another host family – a big lake surrounded by volcanoes and mountains – trip to Quetzaltenango (Xela) for a training – measuring babies in the hospital – big earthquake - food poisoning – World Cup games – crazy bus rides – less rain – lots of things to do for my internship – travel plans.
So here the full story:
After an interesting ride, the shuttle arrived to Panajachel. After dropping off the rest at the ‘harbor’, the driver went to find my place, which took a while and a phone-call, but in the end my new house seemed to exist :D. My new host mom opened the door and welcomed me into the house, wearing the typical Mayan clothing. A big dog was the next to greet me as well as the son of the host mom who was so kind to carry my luggage up the small stairs. They showed me my new room; a pretty spacious one compared to the one in Antigua. After I got installed, I went to find WIFI and explore Panajachel a bit. After walking around a bit I went back to my host family where I had my first meal. I was lucky, because the other student in the house, a girl from the US, had her birthday that day and we had a birthday dinner which we ended with a birthday song and of course a cake. Nice start of my stay there. I thought we would eat every meal together like a family, but later I learned that the students eat at another time, too bad. My family here consists of Maria, the host mom who is always cooking or cleaning (I think she cooks for a lot of neighbors as well), and she has been hosting students for over 15 years. Then I have a host brother, that goes to the university in the evening (most students either have classes in the evening or in the weekend, so they can work during the day to earn money to pay the tuition, very intense!), and a host sister, who works as a teacher and also goes to the university in the weekends. The host dad I met only once, don’t know much about him (the dads don’t seem to be home a lot in this country). They are pretty religious (evangelic), and in most sentences they use the words ‘Gracias por dios’, like a lot of people here. In general, Guatemala is a very religious country and this also attracts a lot of students from the US, (like my roommate) that usually combine studying Spanish with voluntary work through their church (that usually has connections with a church here), usually they come in groups for these mission trips.
After this first encounter with my new home and village, I slept well because I was very tired, luckily, because there is a lot of noise coming from the streets (all the clubs in this street play music till around 1 AM and some place starts playing music at 6 AM again, don’t know why :P), as well as the sounds our lovely, huuuuge dog, makes, that barks a lot (as many other dogs in the neighborhood). Earplugs are a real necessity in this country in order to be able to sleep well.
Pana is a pretty interesting village, where, especially in my street, it feels like a mix between a Spanish party town like Salou and a more indigenous Guatemalan place. It’s small, it has a lot of bars and clubs with very loud music at night and it has some kind of holiday feeling with all these clubs, the palm trees, and the lakeside. But most tourists only are here for some hours or a day, as it’s a popular transit town to take a boat, called a ‘lancha’, to the other towns across the lake and a good place to buy cheap souvenirs. The lake (lake Atitlan) is a very pretty lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes and a lot of mountains. The lake was once created because of a volcanic eruption, and is supposed to be the lake on the highest altitude on earth. I was told that some years ago there was an actual beach in Panajachel, but because of the increasing rainfall the past years, the water has risen a lot (3 m), so the beach including the watch towers are under water. Too bad! The village is packed with tuk-tuks, way more than in Antigua. As the village is a bit hilly it’s the preferred way of transport for the locals, next to walking. But surprisingly there are still quite some people cycling here, or actually walking uphill and cycling down ;-) (I also saw people cycling to work up/down the mountains, crazy people, without any protection!). Next to that the wheelbarrel is used a lot for transporting goods, as well as other very ingenious means of transport, making it always entertaining to watch the streets. There is no bus station yet and therefor all the buses gather in one point (at the end of my street) where they turn around in a small and busy intersection, which means all the other traffic has to stop for a while, while the helper of the driver shouts loudly giving directions to the driver. There are no traffic lights in this place, as in many places, but they use police men instead, really funny, I think they only make the situation worse, but well. As anywhere else most buses exhale lots of black smoke which is just lovely and super healthy (when cleaning your face at night you can see the result :P). There are a lot more indigenous people (Mayan) here, in their very colorful outfits. In the shuttle from Antigua to here I thought a guy was dressed up for fun, but when I arrived here all the men looked like that :P. I call it the clown meets cowboy meets Mayan look. Every village/community has its own typical design and colors, which is really cool. For the men, picture a small guy, wearing a cowboy hat, long colorful checked pants and over it a kind of smaller checked skirt (or just the skirt), a colorful shirt, an even more colorful jacket and finished off with a handmade shoulder bag (all the clothes are handmade actually). It’s pretty cool! The women wear a long skirt and a very colorful tunic called huipil, and usually some colorful scarf or decorations in their hair/on their head.
On Thursday I was picked up at 8 AM by Monica, my supervisor here, and we drove to the Universidad del Valle sedé Altiplano just outside Sololá, a town around 20 minutes from here. Sololá is way more indigenous than anything I have seen so far. It’s a village packed with people traffic and stores, of which many are stores that sell second hand shoes and clothes from the US (if I need shoes, I think this is the place to be looking for big sizes :P). It is a really fascinating place, but I am happy I live in Pana, where I am not the only foreigner :P. Monica showed me the office (a small office with her and the secretary) and the annex, off-campus, where I would be able to work. This ‘office’ is in a building next to the ‘highway’, with views on the always busy road, which is pretty entertaining, as well as distracting, so I usually close the curtains :P. My office has a couch and a low table to work on, but it’s pretty ok, with surprisingly good working internet :D. This day and on Friday I worked here, mainly on my article. On Friday afternoon I had to take the regular bus back, which was a real experience. Luckily the secretary of Monica also had to take this bus, and she showed me how it worked and what it costs (as I would probably be charged more as a foreigner). First we took a ‘microbus’, an old van that fit around 30 people (instead of 9) I believe, squeezing more and more people in along the way (people hanging onto the sides and so on), pretty scary for me, but luckily it was only for 5 minutes. Then we switched to a chicken bus, the old US school buses, which left only when it was completely full (so 3 people a seat). As I’m pretty tall I take up 2 seats almost, but still we have to fit 3 people, so it’s a pretty painful ride for me ;). While waiting to leave, lots of vendors come in selling chewing gum, ice cream, cotton candy, nuts and whatever… When leaving, the helper runs along and jumps in last minute, hanging more outside than inside the bus, screaming where we are going and so on. It stops anywhere where you want to get in or out, so it’s not the fastest way of transportation. The ride from Sololá to Pana is around 30 min by bus I think, and for me pretty scary, as it’s going down the mountain (a descend of 500 m), with curvy roads, with the bus drivers driving too fast for my liking, but it seems to work as this is what locals use as their daily transport. The view however is breathtaking (on the lake), so I just try to focus on that :). Along the way there are some small waterfalls and the view on the lake is just amazing! As Sololá is 500 m higher than Pana, the weather can differ a lot, in Sololá I have to wear a warm sweater, but in Pana you don’t need it at all. Also it can get very foggy (clouds passing by) during the day in Sololá.
On Saturday I went to watch the world cup match Netherlands – Costa Rica. Until that match the Guatemalans really supported the Dutch team, but now they were supporting Costa Rica, as it is a country from their region. I was the only one cheering for the Netherlands in the bar, but luckily we won, and I didn’t get covered in beer :P.
On Sunday morning I got picked up by a shuttle (well after waiting for an hour as they couldn’t find me somehow (how hard is it to find a tall and curly blond foreign girl with luggage… :P)) to go to Quetzaltenango (Xela), where I would follow a training for 3 days, learning how to measure babies. With a full shuttle we left Pana and at some point had to transfer to another shuttle, but then there were too many people all of a sudden, and we had to squeeze 18 people in a 12 people shuttle, but as always there appear to be magic hidden seats and we managed :P, almost like a chicken bus. I had an amazing seat, that would go up sideways every turn, very fun :P (not). After a 3 hour ride we arrived and I was dropped off at the Central Parque of Xela. My hostel was just a few meters away, in a very pretty old building, the Pasaje Enriquez, an over 100 year old Italian style building. I checked in, got my private room, which was pretty basic but spacious and went to the nearby Bavarian bar for dinner and internet. Tired from the trip I went to bed early, as I also would have to go to the office early for my first meeting here.
Around 5:30 AM I woke up, I think because of the sound of a lot of barking dogs, and some minutes later I was shaking in my bed. As I was already awake I realized it was an earthquake (like in Antigua). It was pretty heave and the noise was just horrible (it sounds like there are a ton of rocks rolling down a hill and you are at the bottom), and as I knew the building was pretty old and I was on the top floor, I was just thinking that I had to go down somehow to find a place to hide (a table or something). I just ran down the stairs to the first floor, seeing quite some dirt falling down, when luckily the moving stopped. Catching breath and trying to calm down I went back up as the hostel reception was still closed, and went to check how the other people in the hostel were doing; also scared. Right after this I got called by 2 people from the office in Xela and the boss of CeSSIAM, all checking if I was ok which was very thoughtful. When they heard where I stayed, they said I’d better move to another place, as there might be an aftershock, and this building was not too safe. I quickly packed my stuff, had breakfast and got picked up by Rosario who works at CeSSIAM. She said I could stay at here place, which was really sweet. It was a bit out of Xela, but in a really nice, safe house. First we went to the CeSSIAM office where we worked for some hours (the rest of the company got off work today, for their safety, but this made it nice and quiet and the office was a safe place). For lunch we went to her house, were I met her cute daughter (4 years) and son (5 months old) and the 2 baby sitters. We had a very nice lunch, the house looked great (compared to what I have seen so far, this was luxury!). I got the children’s play room as my room (and after some time they little girl gave me permission to play with her toys, very sweet) and got installed. In the afternoon we returned to the office where I had a meeting with Elena, who would teach me how to measure the babies. In the evening we had dinner at Rosario’s place, really delicious and I met her husband. All really nice people!
During the day I heard more and more news about the magnitude of the earthquake. It was around 7 (Richter) and the epicenter was in Tapachula, Mexico, around 100 km from here. It was a pretty intense one, with quite some damage in different parts of Guatemala. Luckily in Xela there was not too much damage (I already got scared seeing cracks appear in the walls of my hostel and debris falling down), but in other places there has been quite some; a lot of houses collapsed, a lot of schools have been damaged, people got injured, there were road slides and so on. All schools in the country were closed for 2 days, as well as quite some offices, and a national state of disaster/emergency was declared. Luckily there was no big aftershock, but we still had daily small ‘temblores’ (shakes). Every time I felt something move, I wasn’t sure if it was just me shaking, the bed or the earth/house :P (and still have that :P). The next night I woke up because I was dreaming that I was in a shuttle and the shuttle was shaking, but it appeared to be a shake :P. It was quite the topic in the country and the local people were quite scared, even though they all have experience with earthquakes as they happen a lot.
On Tuesday I woke up early and Rosario brought me to the public hospital of Xela where I would get my training from Elena. It was really interesting to see the hospital, a very different kind of hospital than the ones we have back home. The public hospitals are not in the best state here. Imagine going back in time like 80 years. We worked for some hours at the children’s department, where we followed the doctors round, so we could measure the babies after the nurses weighed them. Most moms were pretty cooperative, and really nice, but for the babies it was a bad experience. The way you measure them is not the nicest, and you have to stretch them as much as possible, keeping them still, which is close to impossible, especially when they cry... and as we were doing a training we both had to measure each baby twice… but in the end we managed and I got ‘standardized’, so I was able to correctly measure them. The babies (and children) looked so small here, compared to what I am used to. It’s hard to guess the age of children, most of them are undernourished and look younger then they are. Next to that, what really made an impression is that quite some babies here were abandoned by their families because they were sick (and they either have no money to take care of them / it is not really accepted to have a sick/different child I heard). Really sad… Also the hygienic standards are so different than the hospitals I worked at and insects are crawling on the walls. But it was an impressive and interesting visit!
After the training we went to the CeSSIAM office, where we had a birthday celebration of 2 colleagues, really nice. The rest of day I worked in the office on my article. In the evening I watched the movie Despicable me (in Spanish) with the family in our house, including popcorn, a good way to work on my Spanish. On Wednesday I was supposed to have my second training day in the hospital, but I didn’t need it, so I worked at the office again. I arranged my shuttle for the next day to go back to Pana and walked around Xela a bit. Later in the afternoon it was time for the semi-final NL-Argentina. Quite some people told me to watch it in a bar in the building I stayed the first night, as it had Dutch owners and all the Dutch expats would go there. That turned out to be right, I arrived and saw a lot of orange :D (and on the other side of the building the Argentineans, as Guatemala really supports Argentina). Unfortunately we lost, but I had a nice afternoon, talking with the owner of the place and observing everything going on. In the evening I had some stomach pain and decided to go to bed early, but soon I started to feel really bad and I got really sick. After 6 weeks a food infection or poisoning finally caught me, it was just a matter of time…. I blamed it on the McFlurry I ate that day, but later I would find out it was something I ate at my host family in Panajachel, as the other student in the house also got sick on the same evening with the same symptoms... (My host mom here felt really bad that it happened). The next morning, after hugging the toilet and garbage bin for quite some hours I felt just horrible and I scared my host family with my looks… :P I couldn’t even drink water for a day and felt unable to go to the doctor. Luckily the family I stayed with took great care of me, and the next day I felt a bit better and able to drink something finally. On Friday afternoon I was able to stand up again :P and decided I would try to take the shuttle the next morning, as they had a place for me. The next day I thankfully was able to travel (and eat :D) and said goodbye to my wonderful family-for-a-week!
It was nice to be in Xela for some days, even though I didn’t see that much of it in the end. I’ll move there for the last part of my internship, so I could get a bit orientated and get to know the people from the office, whom are all very nice. I am very happy I didn’t get altitude sickness, as its pretty high (2500m) and I was a bit afraid of that. I also got the reassurance it’s a lot colder up there, especially at night and it will only get colder next months, so it is good I brought a lot of warm clothes with me.
Quite some travel pills later I arrived back in Pana, without getting sick, pfieuwwww. Drugged form the pills I slept for some hours and then felt alive enough to watch the NL-Brazil game, but no drinks for me this time :P. In the evening I went with the other girl from the house and her friends for a walk around Pana (they showed me the supermarket and other useful shops), and had dinner and drinks with them, as they were leaving the next day (for me just juice and plain pasta though :P). I skipped on going out as I was feeling sick again after eating, a feeling that would stay for some days. On Sunday I said goodbye to my roommate, and she left me quite some useful stuff (I felt like in Aruba again, when we had this big transferring of things when people left). It also meant I could move to her room, which was a bit bigger but mainly has a lot more daylight and a window that looks out on the street, so a nice upgrade :). I felt quite better and went to a bar to watch the world cup final and afterwards went to see the lake for the first time, just beautiful. There was also live music giving the place a real chill holiday vibe.
On Monday it was time to go to the office in Sololá again. As Monica forgot to pick me up I had to take the bus there myself, but I managed and arrived safe and sound :D. The rest of the week I worked at the office on the first part of my assignment here, for this week it was measuring a lot of photos of babies, with a ruler and pencil doing measurements.
Last weekend I took it slow, walked around Pana, and worked on my internship assignments. On Saturday we didn’t have electricity for a while (which happens more often lately), so I went to the Sunset bar, with views on the lake to watch the sunset and make some travel plans for my time here at the lake, as there are quite some nice villages to discover in the weekend and time is passing quickly. On Sunday I went to try pizza in the Circus Bar which everyone said was just amazing, but in reality it was just ok :P, but well I can check it off my to-do-list now :). This past week I worked mainly on my internship assignments.
Living in Panajachel so far is pretty ok, but it’s very different than Antigua. It’s a kind of strange place, where I found it’s hard to meet people; it’s less of a backpackers atmosphere I guess. And as I am working a lot during the day and you don’t really want to be outside in the dark, my social life here is close to zero, but well… I will keep on trying :P. Talking to locals in the bus turned out to be annoying though, as they mainly want to sell things to me or don’t know Spanish (a lot of locals speak indigenous languages). I do try to speak some Spanish at my host family (but I only see them a few minutes a day), the people at shops and at the laundry place, but my Spanish is not improving as much as it did in Antigua, so I have to work on that :P. I did find a nice activity for the evenings, watching DVD’s, which you can buy for around 50 eurocent, and it’s a good way to work on my language skills. Next to failing electricity at times, water is scarce here; there is only running water from 7-10 AM I believe and we have a reservoir, but it only works when I tell the family to turn it on, so if they are not around there is no water :P. Taking a shower is a challenge; due to the low water pressure (as in a lot of places in Guatemala) it takes forever, but well, can’t have it all ;). At least the water is hot, thanks to electric shower heads.
So what’s next? I will be staying in Pana a bit longer than planned due to the internship activities. At the moment it looks like I will stay here for one more month and then move to Xela for another 6 weeks. After that I have 2 weeks (I hope) to travel around Guatemala and then one week in New York/Madrid before I return to the Netherlands. I will also go to Mexico sometime next month for some days, in order to renew my visa (have to leave the country for 3 days to do that). After doing some research I think I’ll go to San Cristobal de las Casas, which has good and cheap shuttle connections from here and seems like an interesting place to visit for a few days. Also I want to visit a different village at the lake every weekend, as there are many to discover and time is passing by quickly. And I have to find a way to meet some nice people in this place, so enough things to figure out :).
And of course I have my internship activities. Next week I’ll start with the actual field work here; measuring and taking photos of newborn babies in the hospital of Sololá, which I think will be really interesting. After that I will have to do all the analysis for that and I will also do some other field work for a new project the last week I’m here. Next to that I’m working on finishing my first article and after that there is another article to be written. I’m also taking an online training course that prepares me for the last part of my internship in Xela (which is related to nutrition environments (food availability), so the internship keeps me pretty busy :).
Luckily the rain seems to have taken a holiday most days (but when it does rain it is intense and the streets really turn into rivers), the temperature in Pana is pretty nice, not too cold not too hot, and the mosquitos also took it slow on bothering me, all good signs :D (as a Dutchie the weather has to be mentioned of course :P).
Well that was my long story for this time, hasta la pasta and enjoy your holidays back home!
P.s. I tried to send some postcards several weeks ago, but I think they didn’t actually leave the post office of Antigua, so I will try again, but if you do happen to receive a card at some point in the future, let me know :).
Foto's bij verslag (12)
26 juli 2014 15:20 | Door: Marten Andringa
Goh, wat een mooi land! Mijn engels is niet heel goed, maar als ik het goed heb gelezen zijn daar zo'n 100 bevingen per jaar? En je hebt er eentje meegemaakt? Dat moet een vreemde gewaarwording zijn geweest. Als je het over Guate hebt, dan bedoel je de hoofdstad? En Antigua is een voormalige hoofdstad vlakbij de huidige hoofdstad toch? Ook leuk de foto's van het WK voetbal, vooral de krantenartikelen, leuk!
En ja, Spaanse les is wel handig, lijkt me...veel plelzier verder!